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Mbhazima Shilowa | It is time for leadership in the battle against Covid-19

On Wednesday night, Gauteng regained its status as the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the country with 75 015 cases, overtaking the Western Cape, which has 73 292 cases.

While it was the epicentre at the beginning of the pandemic, it benefited from the hard lockdown which saw movement restricted, mainly to workers providing essential services. Its aggressive community screening and testing also helped to keep the numbers low, especially in densely populated areas.

It was, however, inevitable that the opening of the economy would see a rise in the number of infected people or of those who succumbed to Covid-19.

The rapid increase in cases should have been anticipated.

Whereas restrictions meant very little movement and interaction, the lifting of all but a few restrictions and the opening of schools led to increased movement and interaction at work and on public transport, such as buses and taxis.

There are people who live in Soshanguve, near Pretoria, but who work in Johannesburg. Some reside in Sebokeng but eke out a living in Springs. Others live in Randfontein and work in Pretoria. Most take multiple forms of transport to get to their workplaces. You can imagine the spread, unless Covid-19 health requirements of sanitising (by people and of transport), physical distancing, the wearing of masks and hand washing are followed.

The decision by the taxi industry to ignore the regulations and authorities turning a blind eye is another contributing factor. As Vatsonga says in Twitter lingo: “a yi nge chayi kahle” (it will end in tears).

In addition, people see the easing of restrictions as a licence to visit one another and to host parties and other family gatherings, despite the call to stay at home.

This phenomenon is not unique to Gauteng. It is happening across the country.

The same people who were whining and whinging about the government treating us like we can only do right under police and army supervision, are themselves behaving like there is no Covid-19 out there, let alone restrictions on gatherings and travel.

Mask wearing

The same with the wearing of masks.

It is seen as uncool to wear them. It is easy to blame young people for not wearing masks or maintaining physical distancing. You just have to look at grown-up people who refuse to wear masks, even in shopping centres or out in the streets. Masks are said to be worn by “moegoes”, “imvemvane” (Johnny-come-lately).

The initial adherence to restrictions of numbers at funerals has since been abandoned as police and soldiers have moved on to other important issues. There is malicious compliance: 50 people inside a tent with many out in the streets, all ready to congregate at the graveside.

It is no wonder the province toyed with the idea of reintroducing some of the restrictions from Level 4.

They have since indicated that theirs is a cry for help from the national government to enforce existing regulations, and to employers, public transport operators and individuals to adhere to Covid-19 health requirements and to stop unnecessary movement.

These are good intentions but are unlikely to yield the desired results as it is impossible to keep an eye on our every movement.

I do not know why the national government abandoned its initial proposal of opening up the economy while keeping stricter restrictions in areas which are considered hotspots. Maybe the noise from various premiers, trade unions and business gave them cold feet. It is time to revisit that decision.

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize seems to have also given up on that idea. He hardly speaks about it. It is not enough to say the numbers are to be expected as we are fast approaching the peak.

Yes, it is in our hands to help reduce the spread of the virus. It is also in the government’s hands to act, including locking down specific areas to reduce the spread even further so as to reduce the load on health workers and facilities.

Just recently, the UK government, which followed a similar approach to us, emphasising interconnectedness of the economy and cities, put Leicester on lockdown while its neighbour Nottingham remained open. The areas are similar to the imaginary boundary between Sandton and Randburg. Yet they have had to restrict movement between the two cities. Pubs and shops are open on the one side and closed on the other.

Same thing in Australia.

That government closed the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales in a bid to control a coronavirus outbreak in Victoria and reimposed strict lockdown measures in Melbourne.

Difficult decision

Vurhangeri a hi ku dya makhondzo. (Leadership is not a bed of roses). It’s not a popularity contest.

The decision to lock down or introduce stricter measures will be unpopular and unpalatable were it to be taken.

The question is, however, if a stricter lockdown is not implemented, what are the alternatives beyond “the lamentations of Jeremiah”?

Whereas the Western Cape may have cried foul, invoking all sorts of conspiracies about the national government wanting to punish the only province not under ANC rule, there will be no such theatrics from Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

The fact that they are preparing graves in advance means they understand the severity that the coronavirus is going to have in the province.

Gauteng shares boundaries with a number of provinces: Limpopo, the Free State, the North West and Mpumalanga. Failure to control the spread of the coronavirus in Gauteng will have a devastating effect on them.

As Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba remarked over the weekend, Limpopo is part of Gauteng when it comes to Covid-19.

Despite the restrictions on interprovincial travel, the N1 north is full of cars and taxis traveling to Limpopo on a Friday and back to Gauteng on a Sunday. Part of Gauteng’s cry for national intervention is to stop those of us who are making regular trips to other provinces for no reason at all.

Eastern Cape

Soon after the outbreak of Covid-19 in our country, when the Eastern Cape had not yet registered any cases, a friend remarked on Twitter: “Long may it last because the consequences would be catastrophic”. At the time I thought he was just being his usual dramatic self. Turns out he knows the province better than most of us.

In addition to the disregard for Covid-19 health requirements by residents, the Eastern Cape’s problems are compounded by incompetence, fraud, corruption and the neglect of health infrastructure by successive administrations over the last 26 years without any consequences. You could swear the province is cursed and under a spell.

Despite denials by the province, stories of patients sleeping on floors without blankets and never receiving medication abound. Soon there will be a quota for the number of people who can be tested per institution per day. If there is already a situation regarding beds and medication, it will obviously worse for ventilators. We are told patients in some hospitals are already fighting over ventilators. Health workers will have to play “God” and decide who to prioritise.

While the numbers of cases is rising rapidly, there has been no slowing down of the theft of state resources, which are meant to fight Covid-19, and food parcels. They are taking the saying “into yomntu yeyam” (what is yours is mine) literally.

Like vultures, they’re always on the lookout for a carcass to feed on. Hyenas, always hovering near other predators, ready to scavenge on anything including bones.

And as always, wool is being pulled over our eyes.


Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate millions siphoned under the guise of door-t-door campaigns for Covid-19. Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, who is the same one who launched prams disguised as ambulance scooters along with Mkhize, now wants the tender to be investigated. Why does the premier need the Special Investigating Unit to investigate when he can call the speaker a municipal manager to find out what happened? Who got paid for doing what?

It is time the national government puts the Eastern Cape health department under quarantine. Self-isolation has failed. They’re likely to continue moving around, infecting others.

They should also respond to Gauteng’s cry to consider stricter enforcement of regulations even as they keep the province on Level 3.

As the president said several times, it is in our hands to limit the spread of Covid-19. We know what to do. The choice is ours.



Written by Ph

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